LINCOLNTON – At their regular meeting held Monday evening, the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved funding an additional $2.2 million to help the district cover state-mandated salary increases for various employee categories. Superintendent Dr. Aaron Allen appeared before commissioners to ask for this additional money from the 2022-2023 county budget.
“At this time last year, I also came before you with a request when the state changed salary expectations for classified employees to be raised to a minimum of $13 or 2.5% increase, whichever was greater,” he said. “At that time, it was planned that in year two there’d a jump to $15/hour or 2.5% increase, whichever was greater. When Kelly Atkins was county manager, it was determined that it would be best to come a year at a time, knowing how politics change. Last year, we only asked for year, so I’m back again asking for another year.”
This increase is for classified employees which include cafeteria workers, bus drivers, teacher assistants, secretaries and the like. When the state budget passed in July, Allen explained, it was $15/hour or 4%, whichever was greater.
Allen explained to the commissioners that they were having some difficulty in maintaining a skilled workforce, such as those in instructional technology, licensed electricians, HVAC, and transportation mechanics as well as financial and data management employees.
“All of our employees are valuable, but these are the ones if we didn’t have them in the building, operations would become compromised,” he said. “We are trying to be competitive in the public sector, we know we can’t compete in the private sector. We’re trying to be competitive with this request and it’ll go into effect immediately.”
Commissioner Bud Cesena asked Allen about the memorandum of understanding which was put in place two years ago. This memorandum of understanding, which was approved at the June 7, 2021 board meeting agreed that beginning on July 1, 2021 and for two successive fiscal years thereafter, the school board shall request no more than, and the county shall appropriate the sum of $19,387,257 to the district's local current expense fund. It also set forth the understanding that beginning on July 1 (for fiscal year 2022), and for two successive fiscal years thereafter, the school board shall request no more than, and the county shall appropriate the sum of $1,729,091 to the district's capital outlay fund. Finally, should there be a catastrophic event, the school board may request that the county increase the amounts. This agreement is nonbinding upon future boards and that the intent of the agreement is to set out funding requests and appropriations for the next three years to responsibly plan and prepare for the expenditure of local tax revenue.
Cesena voted against the memorandum of understanding stating that he had no problem with the money but thought that three years was too long a period of time because of the potential for increased or decreased enrollment numbers.
“Back then, we decided that ESSERs money was going to cover this,” Cesena said at Monday’s meeting. “It’s not covering it?”
ESSERs (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds which were issued due to the global pandemic) can cover some of it, Allen replied and Beth McCraw, chief of financial operations confirmed that back when the MOU was put in place, ESSERs could be used for anything. She also confirmed that some of the employees listed for the increase could be covered under the new ESSERs guidelines, but not many. Allen explained how the district had budgeted ESSERs funds for educational support that they couldn’t afford otherwise and would have to cut programs if they used the funds for anything else.
“I realize the only time I come before you is to ask for more money,” he said. “I apologize for that. You’re not the only ones we’re trying to get money from. We were able to present $17 million in requests to our local representatives at our annual breakfast. We’re currently working with the Renew American Schools grant out of the Biden/Harris administration which is another $15 million. We’re trying to find other resources as well.”
Cesena asked County Manager Davin Madden where they were going to get $2.2 million.
“Right now, if we got it, it’d come from the fund balance,” he said. “Either that or we’d have to cut some current projects for this year.”
Chairman Carrol Mitchem asked if this would get everyone caught up, or will Allen come back in the middle of the budget year next year.
“We still haven’t received an indicator from the general assembly or the Department of Public Instruction about possible budget considerations for next year,” Allen said. “I can’t commit on anything now. We expected to have full flexibility for the new ESSERs money that had more strings attached.”
Allen told Mitchem that the request on the table Monday wouldn’t give raises to all employees and that he’d bring a number to catch them all up in the next county budget.
“Dr. Allen as we spoke in our private meetings that we’ve had, the thing that we’re most concerned about is losing excellent employees,” Commissioner Anita McCall said. “We don’t want to be a training ground for people to jump off to go to Catawba or Gaston County. We don’t want that, even if it puts a strain on us. We want to keep our employees. We have great teachers and staff.”
Cesena agreed that the school system should be able to keep their employees and that as conservative as he was, he’d have to vote in favor of this increase.
“I’m not too crazy about it because two years ago we all sat here and said it would be great, and it has been great, but there’s understanding that things change,” he said. “We’ve got to keep our employees. We hope that you’ll be as conservative with this money as we’d be with our employees.”
In other business, the request of Pace Development Group to rezone 113.27 acres from Transitional Residential to Planned Development- Residential to permit a subdivision with up to 199 single-family detached homes was denied unanimously by the commissioners. The property is located on the west side of N. Little Egypt Road at the intersection with Optimist Club Road in Catawba Springs Township. The Planning Board voted 9-0 to approve the request. The rationale for this denial was traffic in that area and overloading those schools.
Previously postponed to the February board meeting, the application of the Villages of Denver, LLC to rezone a 126-acre tract to permit a subdivision with up to 267 single-family detached homes was further postponed to the March meeting. The property is located immediately north of the end of Kenyon Drive and south of Hagers Hollow Drive in Catawba Springs Township. This matter was tabled until the meeting in March.
The remaining rezoning applications were all approved unanimously by the commissioners and the Lincoln County Planning Board as follows:
- Scott and Carmen O’Neil’s request to rezone a 0.71-acre parcel from Neighborhood Business to Conditional Zoning General Industrial to amend a conditional zoning district for the expansion of a self-storage facility. The property is located at 4360 N. N.C. 16 Business Hwy. on the east side of N.C. 16 Business south of Balsom Ridge Road in Catawba Springs Township.
- The application of Southern Legacy Properties, LLC to rezone 4.89 acres from Neighborhood Business and Residential Suburban to Conditional Zoning General Business to permit a self-storage facility. The subject property is located at 5106 E. N.C. 150 Hwy. about 500 feet southwest of the intersection with Ivey Church Road in Ironton Township.
- Michelle O’Shields’ request to rezone 1.99 acres from Residential Single-Family to Transitional Residential. The subject property is located at 1767 Sherrod Lane in Ironton Township.
Lincoln County Solid Waste Recycling Coordinator Jenna Harmon, also the executive director for Keep Lincoln County Beautiful presented her annual report to the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners at their most recent meeting. The organization completed a beautification project in West Lincoln wherein they planted 21 trees, 22 shrubs, and spread 10 yards of mulch, and created three landscape focal areas along the newly installed sidewalk. All of these improvements will reduce carbon dioxide levels and potentially harmful gasses from air and release oxygen. The group educated students and residents of importance of trees, teamed with Heafner’s Nursery, Lincoln Landscape, and Lincoln County Schools to complete this project. KLCB led the project and funded the project cost of$3,790. Volunteers worked with West Lincoln High School’s Mr. Bridges and his students from the Agriculture and Horticulture classes.
2022 litter accomplishments include roadside litter cleanups, Jack Dellinger Road/Airport Road cleanups, South Fork River cleanup, curb and median cleanups, partnerships with other organizations, Rent-A-Litter Kit Program and free Pocket Ashtray Program.
Totals for these cleanups are:
Roadside 837 hours 1,411 bags
River Cleanup 39 hours 15 bags
Curbs/Medians 84 hours 238 bags
Rail Trail 153 hours 29 bags
Total 1,113 hours 1,693 bags
In addition, two different homeless camps were cleaned for a total of 84 hours and 24.25 tons of trash. This was done under the direction of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, Lincoln County Grounds Department and the City of Lincolnton Police Department.
Since the inception of KLCB, the group has logged in 3,046 volunteer hours and 5,461 bags collected.
Harmon noted that unsecured loads in Lincoln County were a big contributor to the county’s litter program.
KLCB was awarded a grant in partnership with City of Lincolnton for recycling
receptacles in downtown Lincolnton. The receptacles were furnished by Keurig Dr. Pepper through Keep America Beautiful.
The organization received more than $10,000 in donations.
$7,500 from Lincoln County for general funding
$2,000 from City of Lincolnton for general funding
$700 from Girl Scout troop for Lincolnton Middle Tree Planting Project
$250 from private donors
$100 from donor for Lincolnton Middle Tree Planting Project
$15 from donations through AmazonSmile.com purchases
Received $260 in In-Kind Donations
Five litter pickup tools from Saine’s Hardware & Garden Center ($100 value)
Four kayak rentals from Carolina Kayaking for S. F. River Cleanup ($160 value)
Other accomplishments for 2022 include completing requirements for KAB President’s Circle to remain an affiliate in good standing and be eligible for grants and other opportunities through KAB
Maintained website and social media pages (Facebook/Instagram)
Active in other affiliate discussions to build relationships
Completed Litter Index of Lincoln County
Community Board Members
Michael Stokes (until May) - East Lincoln
Debe Howe (effective September) – East Lincoln
Shelby Barkley - Treasurer - Central Lincoln (until March)
Laura Gregory – Central Lincoln (effective April)
Kyle Land - West Lincoln
Government Board Members
Josh Grant - Vice President - Lincoln County
Ritchie Haynes - City of Lincolnton (Until March)
Shelby Barkley – Treasurer – City of Lincolnton (Effective April)
Eric Eaker - Lincoln County Schools
Business/Industry Board Members are as follows:
Jennifer Levin - Blum - East Lincoln
Dr. Karen Miller - Lincolnton Animal Hospital - Central Lincoln
Vacant - West Lincoln
The Beautification Committee Chairperson is Josh Grant
Litter Prevention Committee Chairperson is Stefan Nicklich
Recycling Committee Co-Chairs are Jenna Harmon, Ritchie Haynes
Most Active Volunteers are Patty Korn, George Fischer